Where we last left off, I wrote a general outline of how Toby Fox’s work in game hacking, music creation, and his participation in and moderation of EarthBound forums helped influence his development of Undertale, and eventually Deltarune. In the following article, I am going to talk about how the “hidden character” of W.D. Gaster is important to the game of Undertale both structurally, and plot-wise.
As a bit of plot point before we go on, Undertale is about a human child who you find out is named Frisk who falls into the Underground — ruled by exiled Monsters — and has to find their way to escape. For the longest time, the player who controls Frisk believes they are actually their named character: who is the first Human Child who fell into the Underground many years before Frisk: in about 201X or so — similar to how EarthBound’s introductory narrative tells the player that Giygas is going to attack Earth in 199X. This first Human Child is often called Chara, and through their actions to destroy humanity, they killed themselves and their adopted Monster brother Asriel. Essentially, Monsters and Humans had a War, and the Monsters lost and were banished Underground. The Monsters hoped, through their King, Asgore, and their Queen, Toriel, that they could reconcile with the Humans on the Surface by adopting Chara and raising them with Prince Asriel.
But Monsters — especially Boss Monsters as Asgore, Toriel, and Asriel are called in a metafictional way — gain power through possessing a Human Soul: which was one of the reasons why the Humans attacked them out of fear of them ever taking that opportunity. You find out, at least with Frisk, that a Human Soul possesses a power called Determination: which allows a Human to Save, Load their Save, and Reset the game. Like I said, it is very metafictional. Depending on your choices in Undertale, if you Spare everyone then you can have a Pacifist Ending where everyone is freed from the Underground. Likewise, if you kill everyone, Chara’s psychotic personality — either from before their death, or the culmination of your own violent actions — resurfaces and you will destroy and distort reality. Doing this will taint all of your Resets and the different endings forever. The Chara ending, with them “taking your soul” and then jump-scaring you definitely has creepypasta and horror game elements.
However, one aspect that isn’t made clear in this whole dynamic is Gaster. He is introduced, vaguely, in the narrative of Undertale itself from a figure called the Riverperson who states “Beware the man who speaks in hands.” You also have reference to a powerful weapon used by a boss called a Gaster Blaster that you don’t see anywhere else in the game, and that is more or less it. However, there is the matter of Undertale’s Fun Values. So what are Fun Values? Well, Fun Values are numbers in the Undertale game that trigger certain events — sometimes, in this case, random events. You can manipulate them on a computer by accessing AppData and finding certain files in the Undertale folder. I personally don’t know if there is an equivalent in the Nintendo ports of the game, similar to the debug menu in EarthBound that can still be accessed through the Wii Shop, and the Super Nintendo Classic copies of the latter, and I also know that there are Fun Values features that Fox may have made more available to regular players in an update.
But through toggling the Fun Values, you begin to find some seemingly unused or discarded data. A few grey characters that you’ve never seen before tell you about a previous Royal Scientist in the world of the Underground, a banished civilization of Monsters, that was a genius before he had some kind of accident, and was dispersed throughout space and time. You find a few references to a Monster scientist named Gaster who was erased from existence possibly because of his experiments with reality which, if you play Undertale, you realize is the game itself: of which some of the characters are aware. Sometimes you can even go as far as to materialize a grey door at the place of Waterfall where a strange apparition appears and vanishes when you go up to it. Also, this being — or something like it — is following you around unseen, or at least when your character sprite is in the tall reeds of Waterfall and a Monster points it out. And, if you type Gaster’s name in the character naming section of a New Game, the game automatically resets.
There has been so much debate about whether or not Gaster is a real character, or if it had been a discarded concept as Toby Fox made Undertale proper. Something that creates debate and speculation can keep a universe going through the minds of its fans for quite some time, especially with the implication that said character realized their world is a game, and they might have attempted to meddle with the code … and dispersed throughout it as a result.
But here is where things get even more intriguing, as references to Gaster in Undertale is a whole series of articles in and of themselves. In either the Nintendo port of the game, or also the update, you can meet a character — again at Waterfall — who tells you about their neighbour “Suzy” who may be the reason why you — your character — came to the Underground of Undertale to begin with. You never find “Suzy” in Undertale, but the character who talks about her turns grey — like one of Gaster’s “followers” or the grey sprites that sometimes appeared if you meddled with Fun Values or met certain percentage requirements in the game. This notable as this particular Gaster follower is the only one depicted as having their own colours and changing between them: as though, for a while, they actually exist in the Undertale reality: as though Gaster is beginning to figure out how to manifest aspects of himself, or his creations properly. This became a hint of something more to come, and players could only speculate on what.
What that was became a Survey Program, an almost technical and didactic form linked by Toby Fox on his Twitter after a series of cryptic tweets that seemed to be one side of a conversation between one person — whose name is redacted — and someone else. At first, once you access the program or execute file, it looks like you are designing a character: with different looks, characteristics, and even recording your own reaction to what you have made … only for it to be discarded entirely, and being told by other text, that you cannot choose who you are in this world as you find yourself controlling a child named Kris.
Now, here is where things get interesting. There is one other difference between what will be revealed to be the first chapter of Deltarune, and Undertale. In Undertale, you chose your character’s name only for it to be discarded if you go the Pacifist route, and you realize your character’s name is Frisk. The name you chose basically becomes Chara’s for the Genocide route. But Deltarune does something different.
Not only does it ask for a character name, but it also asks for the player’s name as well: for your name. It is a callback to EarthBound and how at some point you talk with another character on the phone who asks for your name, as a player, and it eventually figures into your final battle against the game’s ultimate boss Giygas: whose sound assets, by the way, are utilized by Toby Fox at the character creation stage of Deltarune. Also, you can choose your character’s favourite food: which is another call-back to the start menu of a New Game of EarthBound. But in Deltarune it goes even further: in that when you first save, not only do you save over Kris’ name, but it isn’t your chosen character name that replaces it, but your player’s name.
So what does the player, and Gaster have to do with any of this? Remember how I mentioned that there is something of a collaborative, or interactive element in how Toby Fox creates his Easter eggs in his recent games, and even a Kickstarter Campaign — which existed for Undertale — often makes a community feel like they are contributing to a product’s very existence? Games are all about interaction between the developer, and the player: the creator makes the world, and the player makes choices that affect variables in that world. What the rules of that world are, however, are up to the creator themselves. I imagine there is an entire branch of game studies, or ludology that examines all of these aspects in much larger detail.
So now, let me do something most fans of Undertale would do, and present you with a theory based on what we’ve gone over so far. W.D. Gaster was the former Royal Scientist of the Monsters in, presumably, the Underground. He made technology that allowed for the Monsters to survive the Underground, and created a great deal of fascinating experiments in order to do so, and to improve Monsterkind. One day, one of his experiments went … wrong. It went so wrong, in fact, that it dispersed him — as I’ve mentioned before — through space and time. Now, we already know that there are elements in Undertale such as Boss Monsters, Save Points, Loading, Resets, and even Encounter screens. These are metaphysical, and metafictional parts of the Undertale world. We also know that most mentions of Gaster are found by accessing the Fun Values of the game and file manipulation.
So what if Gaster’s experiments essentially disseminated him, spread him, through the code of the Undertale itself? But what if we take it a step even further than that. There is another character named Sans the Skeleton who mentions the existence of the space-time continuum, and other timelines. This could be a reference to Undertale’s multiple endings depending on the player’s decisions, but it could also refer to alternative realities, or branches of reality.
In Undertale, there is a primary force that affects reality, and it is called Determination. Humans seem to possess this, or at least the Human Child the player controls who can rewind time, or regenerate based on Save Points. This human’s choices greatly affect reality: as to whether or not the Monsters come back to the Surface, and who lives, and who dies. Sometimes the human remains Frisk, and frees the whole Underground — even though some of its denizens are left behind — while at other times the player keeps killing, and Frisk is subsumed by Chara’s personality who then forces the player to obliterate, or keep destroying, reality itself. Determination is ultimately a major defining factor in how existence — as a game system — persists.
And then you have Gaster. When the Monsters were trapped in the Underground, his successor Alphys was charged with Determination experiments in order to give Monsters the means to escape their prison. It is entirely possible, before his accident, that Gaster had also been in charge of experimenting with Human Determination taken from the Souls of human children that found their way into the Underground. But what we do know, at least from his Gaster followers, is that Gaster has been watching the player, and the Underground, and possibly even reality itself.
But what if Gaster has been doing more than just observing, at least after a while? There are some fans out there that believe Gaster is trying to re-manifest himself into the reality he got erased from, or is trying to get Frisk’s Human Soul to gain the power to do so. But what if Gaster is exactly where he wants to be right now, while recognizing the Human Soul’s power of Determination, and seeks to utilize it for other purposes?
For instance, why tell the player — through the Human Child — his story at all: silently, or indirectly encouraging them to keep finding clues about himself? Why does he manifest these seemingly lost assets of his followers — these grey beings that either look like some versions of already existing characters — or others entirely? And why does that strange grey door with that apparition, or the Sound Room with Gaster’s leitmotif appear at all? What is Gaster trying to do? What could he be encouraging the player to do?
And in our third, and final article, I will be talking about Gaster’s potential plans, how they are reflective of Toby Fox’s methodologies, how they relate to the plot and structure of Deltarune Chapter One, and their possible implications on its future chapters.